WASHINGTON (AP) _ President Barack Obama refused to apologize to Republican challenger Mitt Romney for an aide's comment last week that false filings to a government regulator could bring a felony charge.
The president issued the refusal in a television interview broadcast Sunday as both political camps kept alive the uproar over Romney's history as a businessman, the issue that is consuming the race for the White House.
Romney continues to struggle with charges that he remained in control of Bain Capital, the private equity firm he co-founded and the source of his massive fortune, well beyond when he contends he left the company in 1999 to run the Salt Lake City Olympic Games.
Obama spent two days campaigning in tightly contested Virginia last week, reminding voters of the discrepancies between Securities and Exchange Commission filings and Romney's recollection of his role at Bain Capital. Obama's deputy campaign manager, Stephanie Cutter, suggested Thursday that Romney might be guilty of a felony for misrepresenting his position at Bain to the SEC.
“No. We will not apologize,'' Obama said in an interview taped Saturday with a Virginia television station and posted on its website Sunday. “Mr. Romney claims he's Mr. Fix-it for the economy because of his business experience, so I think voters entirely legitimately want to know what is exactly his business experience.''
Obama was not alone in talking about the issue that has put Romney on the defensive and prompted him to give five television interviews on Friday, something he has been loath to do in the past. Romney insisted he left Bain in 1999 and demanded an apology from the Obama campaign.
“We now know that this president will say or do anything to keep the highest office in the land even if it means demeaning the highest office in the land,'' Ed Gillespie, Romney's campaign adviser, said on CNN.
Cutter, appearing on CBS television, said the former Massachusetts governor should heed the advice he gave his opponents in the Republican primary and “stop whining.''
Romney's campaign released a new television ad on Sunday asking why the president had stopped talking about hope and change, his signature message during the 2008 campaign, and criticizing him for a barrage of negative ads against Romney.
The Romney release comes a day after Obama began running an ad mocking Romney singing “America the Beautiful'' as image after image ties Romney to Bain and U.S. jobs lost overseas and to his personal foreign investments.
The Obama campaign is questioning whether Romney was at the helm of the Boston-based private equity firm when it sent jobs overseas, allegations that “independent fact checkers have said are not true, they're indeed a lie,'' Gillespie said.
Cutter said Romney can't have it both ways.
“Either you're the CEO, president, chairman of the board of Bain Capital as you attest to the SEC or he's telling the American people he bears no responsibility for that. Both those things can't be true. Either you're in charge or you're not,'' Cutter said.
The documents place Romney in charge of Bain from 1999 to 2001, a period in which the company outsourced jobs and ran companies that fell into bankruptcy. Romney has tried to distance himself from this period in Bain's history, saying on financial disclosure forms he had no active role in Bain as of February 1999.
But at least three times since then, Bain listed Romney as the company's “controlling person,'' as well as its “sole shareholder, sole director, chief executive officer and president.'' And one of those documents _ as late as February 2001 _ lists Romney's “principal occupation'' as Bain's managing director.
“Instead of whining about what the Obama campaign is saying,'' Cutter said, “why don't you just put the facts out there and let people decide instead of trying to hide them? If he didn't gain advantages, then show us, show the American people. What is it you're hiding?''
What's more Romney is encumbered with his failure to explain accounts he maintained overseas _ in Switzerland, Bermuda and the Cayman Islands.
Romney said on Friday he has no intention of releasing any more federal income tax returns, a fact that is fueling the Obama campaign's message that the former governor of Massachusetts has not been transparent about his financial history.
Romney has released his 2010 return and a partial estimate for the 2011 tax year. Past presidential candidates have produced far more tax records, dating back to the 1968 run by Romney's father, George, who set a precedent by releasing 12 years of tax records.
The 2012 race for the White House looks to be one of the closest in history and hinges, at this point, on which candidate can convince voters they are best suited to fix the stagnant U.S. economy.
The Obama campaign was refusing to let the Bain matter drop, keeping up the drumbeat that companies that Bain invested in sent jobs overseas _ the so-called “outsourcing'' of jobs needed by Americans at a time of deep economic troubles at home. U.S. unemployment remains at 8.2 percent and the economy is the top issue for voters who will choose between Obama and Romney in 3 1/2 months.
Romney contends Obama is focused on untruths about his involvement with Bain to distract voters from his failure to guide the U.S. economy to a robust recovery from the 2007-2009 Great Recession.
The Obama camp responds that Romney is basing his campaign on the claim that he is the best candidate to handle the economy because of his success as a businessman. It points, they say, to the questions about Romney's business record and activities. That in turn raises questions about how he would handle policy that helps stop the economic slide of middle-class Americans.